Ten points from two wins and four draws has Sporting KC sitting sixth in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference.
Peter Vermes’ team picked up its most recent draw last weekend at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium in a wild 4-4 Texas shootout. The club’s porous defense was overshadowed by Benny Feilhaber’s late goal as the American international continues to be Sporting’s most in-form player.
Sporting is currently second in goals allowed (12) behind the Philadelphia Union, and while the team is tied for second in goals scored with 11, Sporting is still waiting on Dom Dwyer and Graham Zusi to fully ignite.
Zusi is yet to score this season, but did notch his first assist against Houston. Meanwhile, Dwyer tallied his second goal of the campaign against the Dynamo. The Englishman is becoming more comfortable with attack partner Krisztian Nemeth (three goals in 2015) as the latter replaced C.J. Sapong.
Nine goals in five games has the attack building momentum, but the defense is in shambles or something similar. There is no doubt the defense misses Ike Opara, a man reborn after a season-ending broken ankle kept him sidelined in 2014.
Statistically, Opara was one of the best central defenders in the league through the team’s first six weeks. Rated as the league’s number one defender courtesy of WhoScored.com, Opara will most likely miss the remainder of 2015 with a ruptured Achilles.
Kevin Ellis may have had a poor game against the Dynamo in Opara’s absence, but Peter Vermes has found a new right-back that is highly capable in Jalil Anibaba.
Anibaba has been a revelation filling in for Chance Myers as he continues to recover from an Achilles injury of his own. Acquired when Sporting traded Aurelien Collin to Orlando City, Anibaba’s defensive work has been outstanding.
In six games, the 26-year-old is averaging 2.5 tackles, 3.5 interceptions and 3.3 clearances per game. Anibaba’s passing has been a weak point, however, as the right-back is completing only 65% of his pass attempts.
Anibaba spent much of the game versus the Dynamo in advanced positions with center-back Kevin Ellis shading towards the right to cover for him. Anibaba’s position was an attempt to pin back Houston left-back DeMarcus Beasley and left sided midfielder Brad Davis.
Despite this tactic, Davis did tally two assists as he roamed from side to side. In the end, Anibaba did do what was asked of him in attack and kept to many of his defensive duties. Yet overall, the rearguard was frail.
The defense should get some help sooner rather than later. Myers is expected to be ready for first team action on June 1. He has been training with the first team for some time now. Myers could find himself back in the starting XI once fit if Vermes decides to pair Anibaba with Matt Besler. So far that central pairing hasn’t been tried, but could be forced if Sporting continues to struggle. It is an option.
In addition to Meyers’ return, Sporting could have full-back Seth Sinovic back in the team. The long-time Sporting player was injured against Portland in late March and was not on the teamsheet for the trip to Houston.
Re-enforcements are on the way for Sporting, but the team will reignite old rivalries in the coming weeks against former Eastern Conference foes. Sporting hosts Chicago in its next fixture followed by a trip to DC United. These fixtures could be just what Sporting needs. The Fire has a mere one away goal this term and a clean sheet could be the confidence boost that Vermes and company need.
Follow Drew Farmer on Twitter @CalcioFarmer. Currently living in Manchester, England, Drew Farmer is a native of southwest Missouri. Drew is a contributor to World Soccer Talk and can also be read at ForzaItalianFootball.com. Drew regular writes about MLS, Serie A and English football.
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